What To Do If Your Chickens Are Skinny?


Chickens are rarely, if ever, picky eaters which can make it all the more concerning when they are having a hard time keeping on weight. In order for a chicken to lay regularly and live the happiest and healthiest life possible, they should be a little plump but not overweight.

If your chickens are skinny and underweight, manage their food differently with these tips:

  • Increase carbohydrate and protein in their feed
  • Supplement with scratch or cracked corn
  • Make sure that food is always available 
  • Deworm your chickens
  • Limit free range activity

Basically, if your chickens are underweight they need more to eat. Though the idea is simple, there are a few things that you should avoid if you are fattening up some poultry.

In this article, we will look at some of the reasons that chickens can become underweight and what you can do about it. read on to find out.

How To Put Weight On Skinny Chickens

A chicken that is underweight is more susceptible to disease, injury, and is more than likely pretty stressed. A stressed chicken is unlikely to lay eggs which is bad for everyone involved. Fortunately, it shouldn’t be too difficult to put some weight on. 

Do keep in mind, however, that different chickens have different ideal weights. Let’s look at a few simple ways to do put weight on if it’s needed. After looking at your chickens’ weight it’s also possible for them to be overweight, read more in my article Can Chickens get Fat? How to Help them lose weight.

Increase Proteins and Carbohydrates for Skinny Chicken

These two macronutrients are going to go a long way towards improving the weight and overall health of your chickens. Different types of chicken feed have different ratios of protein, carbs, and fiber among other macronutrients. If they are eating standard feed, you may need to switch to a feed tailored for layers or even a feed for meat chickens if the intent is to butcher. 

Treat Your Chickens To Healthy Supplements

Chickens love treats. By varying their diet and adding supplemental treats, you encourage better feeding habits. Cracked corn, high fat seeds, oatmeal, cottage cheese, bread soaked in milk, mealworms, corn, cooked eggs are all great, healthy treats that pack a lot of high value protein and/or carbs. 

Treats can be given separately, apart from their regular feeding, or can be mixed into their feed. While you can give a bit extra when fattening up a desperately skinny chicken, you want to aim for no more than 10 percent of their total diet consisting of snacks.

Also, make sure that if any food goes uneaten that it does not turn rancid, especially with wet and sloppy foods.  If they aren’t eating something, remove it before it has a chance to rot.

Do you feed your chicken food pellets? Get all the facts about chicken pellets in my article, Do Chicken Like Pellets.

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Allow A Constant Food Supply To Encourage Your Chickens Grazing

If you are feeding your chickens a set amount at a set time, you might need to increase the amount of food they are getting, especially if your chickens are underweight.

They should have access to food at all times. So keep those feeders full! This allows your birds to graze throughout the day, which lets them better manage their caloric intake and in turn, maintain a healthy weight. 

If you have baby chickens in your coop you may be wondering about the importance of grit. Learn more about how grit helps baby chicks digest food properly in my article, Why Baby Chickens Need Grit (and How to Provide It).

You May Need To Deworm Your Chickens

Most chickens are host to parasitic worms. It is a bit gross but it is just a fact of life with chickens. For animals that eat most of their food off the dirty ground, and aren’t too picky with what they stick their beaks in, it is inevitable that they are going to pick up worm eggs and become infected. The good news is that most of the time, healthy chickens live normally with worms. 

Most of the time the parasites don’t affect the health of the bird, but sometimes due to a poor immune system or just an overabundance of worms, a chicken’s system can be overwhelmed. These overwhelmed chickens can quickly shed weight and can experience a variety of other symptoms associated with the infection.

This means that you need to give your chickens deworming medication. Fortunately, deworming medication is easy to get and can be found on Amazon or at your local farm store.

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You May Need To Limit Free Range Chicken Movement

If you suspect your chickens are losing weight and it is resulting in poor laying performance, you may need to reduce the amount of movement in their day. This is mostly reserved for very active free range chickens and can be more prevalent in colder months as colder temperatures force them to burn more calories to keep warm. 

Though they may protest, you may need to reduce time spent free range and put them in cages or a coop. Even if it is just for a portion of the day, this can help chickens to put on weight a bit faster. 

How To Tell If A Chicken Is Underweight

Since they are already small and light, it can be a bit tricky to actually determine if they are underweight or not. Chickens, and other birds, do not put on weight like mammals where fat is deposited somewhat evenly between extremities and body throughout the muscle. 

In chickens, the fat is not stored within the muscles. Instead, it accumulates around the organs in the body cavity and between the skin and the muscles. They also accumulate most of the fat in what is called their “fat pad” which is on their underside between the legs leading up towards their vent. This is one reason why overweight chickens might have trouble laying. 

But all chickens are fluffy and puffy, how is anyone supposed to decide if a chicken is too skinny or too fat? It’s rather simple really. 

Feel For The Keel

What you’re looking for is the keel bone, an angular bone that separates a chicken’s breast, which is why it is also called the breastbone. It can be hard to find, especially in those extra fluffy feathered breeds. 

Being able to feel the keel bone or not is the best way to tell if a chicken is overweight, underweight or just right.

How Does The Keel Feel?

Think of the keel much like the center of our ribs cage, where the left and right ribs meet between the pectorals. You should be able to feel the keel between the two breasts of your chicken. If you can actually pinch the keel bone or it feels as though it is jutting out the chicken is underweight. For a chicken at its proper weight, the bone should have some meat on it, and should not be sharp. 

If you are having trouble finding the Keel please look at the Poultrypages post here complete with diagrams, and photos to help you.

What If You Can’t Feel The Keel?

If you feel cleavage, which is the meat of the chicken’s breast, chances are good that your chicken is overweight. The breast meat should be flush with keel, not bulging. Fat accumulation beneath the skin, combined with large breast tissues can make the keel hard to find. 

An overweight chicken can suffer from various health issues just like an overweight human. Learn more about How to Help Overweight Chickens lose Weight in my article.

Reasons Why A Chicken Might Be Too Skinny

If you’ve diagnosed your chicken as underweight by feeling its sharp, meatless keel bone, you might like to know why your chicken is in this state. There are a few reasons why a chicken might shed weight. Fortunately, not many of them are that serious and can be easily fixed with some simple action. 

Here are some of the most common reasons for a chicken to lose precious weight:

Stressed Chickens Lose Weight

Chickens are hardy creatures but they can still suffer from a lot of different stressors.

  • temperature changes
  • seasonal changes
  • Noise
  • Illness
  • Predator sightings or attacks 

Any of these things can put your chickens in a foul mood. A stressed chicken has a lowered appetite and can’t lose weight rather quickly if the stressors are not addressed and taken care of.

This may require adjusting temperatures with a coop heater, cleaning out the coop, eliminating predators, or just giving your chickens some stress-free time to recoup.

A stressed chicken can be difficult to handle, see my article on How to Handle a Chicken Properly.

Brooding Chickens can Lose Weight

When hens are brooding they tend to not leave the nest much. They may only eat or drink once per day which can cause them to lose weight quickly. Broody hens can be a bit grumpy and frustrating to deal with, but luckily the brooding should only last about 3 weeks. Afterward, you can spur her appetite by giving some high value treats. 

Your Chicken Has Thrush

Thrush is a type of yeast infection that is common in chickens. A chicken suffering from thrush will have a significantly lowered appetite and can lose weight quickly. Early detection is key in treating your chicken to avoid additional problems and weight loss. Luckily you can take some simple precautions to help avoid any outbreaks of thrush in your flock. 

Enure The Coop Is Well Ventilated

Yeasts thrive in hot, humid, dirty environments where there’s a lot of food for the microorganisms. Your chicken coop needs to be well ventilated in order to avoid any yeast colonies from growing. This will also help to prevent fungus and mold from taking hold in the coop as well. 

Chicken’s Food And Water Should Be Clean

Chickens can make a mess out of everything, which means pooping in their food and water. If filthy food and water are a problem in your coop you may need to switch to a feeder or water dispenser that is more hygienic and easier to clean. Feces in the food and water can also cause parasitic infections as well, so keeping everything clean is a good practice. 

Utilize Probiotics to Prevent Thrush

You can supplement your chickens with a probiotic solution in order to boost their natural immune systems. Some people also swear by feeding chickens garlic from time to time to inhibit the growth of parasites, fungus, and thrush.

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Reduce Stress in Chickens to Prevent Thrush

Again, stress rears its ugly head. Stress lowers the immune systems of our chickens so it is important that they can live in a low-stress environment. Watch for things that might stress your chickens out and make sure all of their needs are covered, like shade, shelter, food, water, and treats as well as a clean living environment.  

Your Chicken Is Sick

A common symptom of many chicken illnesses is loss of appetite. Loss of appetite and weight loss are easy to register signs that something is off with your chicken. Diarrhea, wheezing and coughing, and sluggishness often go hand in hand with weight loss in chickens. If you see any of these symptoms combined, you may need to consult a veterinarian for medicine. 

They Are Getting A Lot Of Exercise

This is a good thing for healthy and happy chickens, though it can affect egg production. Also, if your chickens are losing so much weight that it is affecting their laying, it could be detrimental to their long term health as well.

Like we stated earlier, if they have too large of an area to roam, they might be burning too many calories. Increasing food near the coop, or confinement to a smaller area might be necessary to get those chickens fattened up and laying. 

They Have A Parasitic Infection

When we went over deworming early in the article, we mentioned how most chickens can live with parasites without it affecting their livelihood. In some cases, those parasitic infestations can result in direct weight loss in chickens as the parasites feed within the bird. 

There are a number of common parasites in chickens and nearly all of them can cause problems if their populations are too high, due to stress or illness. Most can be treated with anti-parasitics and again, some people swear by garlic as a prophylactic against parasites of all kinds. Another way to eliminate parasitic infection, once again, is to make sure food and water sources are not in contact with feces.

Final Thoughts

It is important to remember that stresses of any kind are going to be the main culprit in most chicken weight loss. Most often, the cure for these types of stress is time. So, if you are worried that your chicken is underweight, though they aren’t showing symptoms of anything else, give them time. 

The smallest things can sometimes bother a chicken to the point that they refuse to eat, but as long as the stressor is removed and they have access to their essential needs, they should bounce back within a week or two. 

Moving their coop or cage, a drop in temperature or even the earlier sundown as the seasons change can set a chicken in a bad mood. Just give her some time and she should calm down and fatten right up. A few high quality snacks can always boost most chickens’ moods as well. 

Dane McManis

Dane started learning about farming while volunteering on a farm. Now he and his wife raise chickens, pigs, and ducks on their small farm with their two little girls.

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